How Long Does it Take to Detox from Different Drugs?

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Different Drugs?

Drug and alcohol addiction is a severe problem in the United States and worldwide.1  Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, 21.4 percent—59.3 million people—had used illicit drugs within the past year. And more than 20 million Americans aged 12 and over suffer from a substance use disorder—alcohol or drug addiction. The first step in recovering from addiction, and reversing its damaging physical and psychological effects, is to undergo a detox process.  For individuals who are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction—and their loved ones—this page provides essential information about drug and alcohol detox. It answers questions such as:

Table of Contents

What Is Drug Detox?

It’s important to understand that alcohol and drugs are toxins: They are poisons that the human body recognizes and responds to as toxic substances. Drug or alcohol detoxification is the process of eliminating these toxins from the body—hence the term, “detox.”

When an individual who has abused drugs or alcohol for a long time goes through detox, they typically experience physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are a physiological response to the sudden decrease or elimination of the substance that the body has become dependent upon.

The detox process can be challenging. So, it’s generally safer, more comfortable, and more effective with the support of medical and mental health professionals. A team of skilled doctors and counselors can help manage the most severe withdrawal symptoms and ensure the detox and addiction recovery are completed.

When Is a Drug Detox Necessary?

The first step in recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction is to admit that there’s a problem. Sometimes, the addict needs to “hit bottom” before they recognize how damaging their drug use has been, e.g., how it has caused all kinds of physical, psychological, legal, financial, and relationship problems. The next step on the road to recovery is to undergo detox. When a person starts to ask themselves—”I wonder if I need a drug detox?”—chances are good that the answer is yes. And it’s probably a good idea to consult with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

The official psychiatric term for drug addiction is “substance use disorder.” And the manual that mental health professionals consult to make their diagnoses is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual has undergone several revisions; and is currently on its fifth edition—which is why its current abbreviation is DSM-5.

The DSM-5 lists eleven main criteria for diagnosing a substance use disorder (SUD). These eleven symptoms fall into four categories: 2

A substance abuse disorder is also diagnosed according to its severity: mild, moderate, or severe.

If an individual is officially diagnosed with a substance use disorder, then undergoing a detox—as the first step in recovery from the addiction—is an excellent idea.

Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

What withdrawal are symptoms commonly experienced during a drug or alcohol detox?

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. And they differ from one person to the next. The specific symptoms that a person experiences, and their level of severity, will depend upon the following:

Common drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be categorized into physical and psychological symptoms. 3

Physical Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal

Physical detox withdrawal symptoms may include:

Psychological Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal

The most severe and dangerous alcohol or drug addiction withdrawal symptoms—known as delirium tremens (DTs)—may include:

What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?

Long-term alcohol or drug use dramatically changes brain chemistry 4. When a person regularly drinks alcohol or uses drugs, their brain (along with their nervous and endocrine systems) adjusts to the substance’s presence. Over time, they become physiologically dependent on the substance. They rely on alcohol or drugs to function and feel “normal.” When such dependence has become strong, and the person then stops using the substance—the body responds to the sudden absence of the alcohol or drug with withdrawal symptoms. During withdrawal, the person’s body struggles to reach a new state of homeostasis that doesn’t include the presence of the drug or alcohol. Temporary disruptions in brain chemistry are part of this process—which can contribute to mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.
How Long Does it Take to Detox from Different Drugs?

How Long Does a Drug Detox Take?

Like the specific withdrawal symptoms that someone experiences, the length of the detox process depends on the person’s unique situation: their physical and psychological condition; the type and amount of substance they were using, etc.

Typically, drugs that are smoked or injected will leave the body faster than those that are snorted. Drugs that are swallowed will stay in the body the longest.

And different substances require different amounts of time to be fully metabolized and eliminated from the body.

The Length of Detox by Substance

Different substances stay in the body for differing periods affecting the detox time for each. Typically, a person can detox from substances within a week—though cravings and other post-acute withdrawal symptoms may persist for months or even years afterward.

How Long Are Drugs Detectible on a Urine Test?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided information on how long drugs tend to be detectable on a urine drug test. 5

This information can serve as an estimate of how long they are active in a person’s body.

1 to 3 days

Opioids

(heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone)

1 to 3 days

1 to 3 days

Cocaine

1 to 3 days

2 to 4 days

Ecstasy

(MDMA)

2 to 4 days

1 to 7 days

Benzodiazepines

(sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics)

1 to 7 days

2 to 3 days

Methamphetamine and amphetamines

(ADHD medications)

2 to 3 days

2 to 7 days

Tricyclic antidepressants

2 to 7 days

1 to 3 weeks

PCP

(phencyclidine)

1 to 3 weeks

1 to 3 weeks

Barbiturates

1 to 3 weeks

Detox Withdrawal Effects are Common to All Substances

 Detox withdrawal symptoms vary widely from one person to the next and from one substance to another. However, there are some patterns and effects that are experienced in withdrawal from a wide range of substances. For instance:

Symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, irregular breathing, and changes in blood pressure are common during withdrawal from various substances.

During withdrawal from a substance, tolerance for that substance decreases rapidly. This can be particularly dangerous if the person relapses—since they could easily overdose due to the reduced tolerance.

Symptoms that the drug was designed to reduce or control “rebound”—i.e., appear in full force—when the person stops taking the drug. During withdrawal from benzodiazepine, for instance, a person may experience intense anxiety. Or during opioid withdrawal, they might feel significant pain. Or, during withdrawal from a stimulant, they may experience severe lethargy.

Individuals whose brains have been coerced into producing too much dopamine (a feel-good chemical) may experience an extreme lack of motivation or inability to experience pleasure, during the withdrawal phase of detox.  

Detox Withdrawal Timelines for Common Substances

How long do withdrawal symptoms 6 last when detoxing from alcohol or drug addiction?

The specific answer to this question depends upon the particular substance that is being detoxed, the physical and psychological condition of the person going through the detox, and a host of other individual factors.

With this caveat in mind, here’s a look at some average withdrawal symptom timelines for different drugs—which can help an individual and their loved ones know what to expect.

Alcohol

The first alcohol withdrawal symptoms—anxiety, sweating, depression—can appear within several hours after the last drink. These symptoms will tend to peak during the first 24-72 hours. Detox from alcohol is one of the riskiest types of detox because it poses the threat of seizures and delirium tremens 7 , which generally develops 48-72 hours after heavy drinking has ceased. The alcohol detox process typically takes about a week, with the most intense symptoms peaking around day four.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

Opioids

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can begin within 6-12 hours after the last use and peak sometime within the first week. The most severe symptoms will taper off by the end of the second week. But individuals who have used large quantities of opioids or have been addicted for an extended time may continue to experience withdrawal symptoms for months.

In medically assisted detox programs, opioid detox may be supported with drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine.

Short-acting opioid withdrawal symptoms generally begin 8-24 hours after the last use. The symptoms continue for an average of 4-10 days—though some heroin and opioid users remain on maintenance medication for months or years.

When detoxing from methadone and other longer-acting opioids, it may take 2-4 days before withdrawal symptoms begin to emerge. The symptoms typically fade within ten days.

Opioid withdrawal may include symptoms such as:

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent yawning
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Muscle cramps/body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating or salivation

Barbiturates (e.g., sleeping pills)

The initial barbiturate withdrawal symptoms—such as anxiety, insomnia, shaking, or circulation problems—can be expected to begin within the first two days after the last use. The symptoms will tend to peak during days 3-5. Specific withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, may get better and then “rebound” again, even more intensely, after a week—which would require treatment from a medical professional.

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include:

Benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax and Valium)

Withdrawals related to benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax typically begin within 24 hours of the last use, and peak in about three days. By around two weeks, the most severe symptoms have generally tapered off. However, protracted withdrawal symptoms can continue to appear for months or even years—particularly for those addicted to long-acting benzos like Valium.

Symptoms of benzo withdrawal may include:

Stimulants (e.g., Cocaine & Meth)

The symptoms of withdrawal from stimulant drugs 8 , such as meth or cocaine, often taper off within the first week or two, while drug cravings can continue for months.

Stimulant users can expect a wave of depression within the first 72 hours of detox, followed by a “crash” that will leave them feeling depleted of all energy.

For the first week of detox, cravings for the drug will tend to subside—but often “rebound” later in the first month. Both mood swings and severe physical and emotional discomfort are expected during the first month of withdrawal.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms generally begin within the first day of the last use, and these withdrawal symptoms may continue for weeks.

Symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Depressed mood
  • Ongoing tiredness or lethargy
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Increased appetite
  • Concentration problems
  • Slowed thoughts and movements
  • Intense drug craving

Methamphetamine 9 withdrawal symptoms generally begin within 24 hours after the last use. These symptoms can continue anywhere between a couple of days and 2-3 weeks.

Acute meth withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Dehydration
  • Chills
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Depression
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Drug cravings

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms from meth can include:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Drug cravings
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fatigue and excessive sleepiness
  • Increased appetite

Hallucinogens/Psychedelics

Withdrawal symptoms from hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, PCP,  ecstasy, ketamine, or salvia appear within 1-2 days after the last use. The initial symptoms may include headaches, drug cravings, and sweating.

Such withdrawal symptoms will tend to peak and taper off within the first week of the detox process. Also, the brain’s dopamine reward system changes may alter mood until natural levels return to normal.

Marijuana

Detoxing from marijuana is often easier than detoxing from other drugs or alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms during marijuana detox typically begin within 1-3 days after discontinuation of use. The symptoms peak within ten days; a steady decline in severity starts over 10-20 days.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include:

Nicotine

Detoxing from nicotine (via cigarettes, pipes, or chewing tobacco) creates an intense craving within four hours of the last intake. Additional withdrawal symptoms will tend to appear within the first 24 hours. After about three days, most of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms will be at their peak. And after a week, most of the symptoms will have disappeared—though some may continue for up to a month.

Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

Treatment Support for Detox and Recovery

Both medical and mental health professionals typically support individuals undergoing drug or alcohol detox and rehab. Doctors can provide medications to assist the detox process. And therapists offer individual and group therapy sessions to help identify and address the root causes of the addiction, develop healthier habits, and lay a strong foundation for lasting sobriety. Socal Sunrise is a dual diagnoses treatment center in southern California that provides comprehensive addiction services—detox, rehab, and aftercare—for all common substances. Our dedicated team of experts employs a combination of traditional and holistic methods for healing the mind and body, bringing balance back into our patients’ lives. These healing modalities—rooted in principles of effective treatment—include: 10

 We are dedicated to the kind of healing that encompasses body, mind, and soul—and supports the creation of an inspiring new life.

Questions or comments? Please feel free to contact us.

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Different Drugs?

References & Resources

  1. Drug Policy Facts. Drug Use Estimates: Prevalence and Trends (July, 2022).https://www.drugpolicyfacts.org/chapter/prevalencehttps://www.drugpolicyfacts.org/chapter/prevalence
  2. Addiction Policy Forum. DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplifiedhttps://www.addictionpolicy.org/post/dsm-5-facts-and-figures
  3. Health Direct. Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/addiction-withdrawal-symptoms
  4. Banerjee Niladri (2014). Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies. Indian Journal of Human Genetics. Jan;20(1):20-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4065474/
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Drugs of Abuse Home Use Test. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/drugs-abuse-tests/drugs-abuse-home-use-test
  6. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/
  7. Rahman A, Paul M. Delirium Tremens. [Updated 2021 Aug 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders (2021). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/PEP21-02-01-004.pdf
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, May). Methamphetamine Drug Facts. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
  10. NIDA. 2020, September 18. Principles of Effective Treatmenthttps://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment